Relationships can be difficult to begin with, so what happens when the person you love is hundreds or thousands of miles away?
Although it may seem as though there is no easy way to be in a long-distance relationship (LDR), if both partners value the connection and want to make it work, it is entirely possible to make it through temporary or long-term separation. There are many things couples can do to help enable their relationships to survive physical separation while continuing to grow. LDRs are extremely common, as evidenced by the estimate that approximately 14 million people in the United States alone are currently a part of one. Further, it has been reported that 40 to 50 percent of young adults are involved in LDRs at some point in this stage of life.¹ Being in an LDR has the potential to help each member of a couple decide whether the relationship is worth pursuing long distance, which can bring the partners closer, or if it is wiser for them to go their separate ways.
Before Being Separated
Before separation occurs, it is imperative for a couple to set specific terms for the relationship once it becomes long-distance. This is particularly meaningful in situations in which one or both partners may repeatedly be faced with opportunities for infidelity, such as a student moving to a college campus or an entertainer who attends many parties and social events. Problems can arise if one partner believes that the relationship is casual and open, while the other is making sacrifices for and putting effort into what they think is a monogamous relationship. Engaging in open and honest communication about the separation and discussing what each partner wants from the relationship can significantly help minimize such confusion. Having a realistic and candid conversation about how often each partner wants to talk per day will also reduce the risk of one partner feeling forgotten about or neglected by the other. Openly discussing what each partner expects from the other before the separation occurs will likely help create an easier transition from a typical relationship to an LDR.
Important Characteristics of Long-Distance Relationships
Although the following qualities are crucial for the success of any relationship, being long-distance can amplify their importance.
Trust: In order for an LDR to survive, it is essential for each partner to have trust in both the relationship and their partner. When one partner is not able to reach the other physically or verbally, a lack of trust can easily lead to doubt, suspicion, or paranoia. Because these feelings are not conducive to a rewarding relationship, they may lead to a breakup. Meanwhile, in relationships with mutual trust, if one partner is unable to quickly respond or communicate with the other for an extended period of time, which can and does happen in LDRs, it is less likely that the other will immediately assume the worst.
Commitment: It is very difficult to to make an LDR work when one (or both) partner(s) is not fully committed to the other and the relationship. Because the couple may be separated for long periods of time, the temptation to be unfaithful may prove too hard to resist for partners who are not completely committed to each other. To ensure that you and your partner are constantly on the same page regarding your commitment to one another, we recommend talking openly and honestly about each of your feelings about that commitment on a regular basis.
Independence: It is meaningful for both parties to be reasonably independent, or to be comfortable doing things without their partner, given that they will be without one another for long periods of time. Partners who have their own circles of friends and participate in hobbies that they are passionate about are likely to fare better than people who are solely dependent on their significant others for gratification and happiness. It is worthwhile to do your best to stay busy and live life to the fullest—even when a big part of your heart might be somewhere else. Being independent allows each member of couples to find happiness on their own rather than depending on their partner for this feeling. This can also help the relationship grow, as relationships are more likely to be successful if both partners are capable of being content on their own.
Organization: It is helpful for members of LDRs to be as organized as possible, so that they can set aside time to dedicate to their partner, whether that be communicating by phone, FaceTime, writing letters, exchanging emails, or a number of alternative forms of conversation, on a regular basis. Creating a sort of schedule for your relationship is a great way to show your partner that they can and should feel comfortable depending on you. Moreover, planning when you will visit each other next can build anticipation and excitement. Staying organized and planning ahead, in all aspects of life, is crucial to the maintenance and sustainability of an LDR.
Honesty: Honesty is also especially valuable in an LDR. When one partner does not know what the other is feeling or doing much of the time, they may assume the worst and become frustrated. Being honest with one other and open about your feelings can help create trust in your relationship. This is true for both positive and negative feelings. When strong feelings of any nature are kept to oneself for an extended period of time, they tend to intensify and worsen, which can hurt relationships. Although it can be difficult to be completely honest with your partner, doing so allows for the most possible growth in your relationship. If you are not honest when something is bothering you, your partner will likely be unable to solve the problem at hand because they will be unaware that there is one at all.
Communication: Communicating with your partner is arguably the most essential element of a successful LDR. In order to keep the spark alive in an LDR, both partners must realize the value of open and honest communication. Communicating can be as simple as sending a short text, talking on the phone, or telling your partner your thoughts and feelings via some other form of correspondence throughout the day. Oftentimes, small measures of this kind are perceived as reassuring, sweet, and thoughtful!² Further, staying connected with each other throughout the day is a great way to keep the romance alive. Although you and your partner are not physically together, communication can help you feel more connected to one other.
Tips For a Successful Long-Distance Relationship
1. Set up phone or video chat dates, and take them seriously
Every relationship depends on communication, and LDRs, in particular, cannot exist without it. Schedule a routine time to call, and focus entirely on your partner during the conversation. Eliminate all other distractions, perhaps by moving to a quiet room without any other people. As this becomes routine, you will likely find yourself looking forward to your time together, which can help strengthen the relationship. There are also many great ways to keep in touch via the Internet. Applications such as FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, ooVoo, and Google Hangout are easily downloadable on your phone or laptop, and are often free of charge. These programs can enable you to video chat or call your partner no matter where you are—as long as you have access to the Internet. These online “dates” can often feel like the closest thing to being with your partner face to face.
2. Text regularly
Texting is a great way to communicate during the day if partners’ schedules are too hectic or do not line up well enough to frequently call or video chat. Sending a quick text in the morning or during the day can serve as a small reminder to your partner that you are still thinking of them even though you cannot physically be together. Although it can feel like simply sending a text is too casual or insignificant, this can be an easy way to promote confidence in the relationship by reassuring your partner that they are regularly on your mind. However, couples may consider working not to let texting be the sole or even most common form of communication in the relationship, as this can lead to feelings of disconnectedness. We recommend utilizing texting in conjunction with other, more instantaneous modes of communication.
3. Sexting and Phone Sex
Sexting is a broad term that refers to sending sexually intimate text messages, images, or videos. Similarly, phone sex consists of describing sexual acts over the phone. FaceTime or video chat sex falls under the category of phone sex, but includes the added element of each party being able to physically see the person they are talking to, a feature which often leads individuals to strip or masturbate for the person on the other line. These forms of communication have been associated with higher rates of sexual satisfaction in LDRs, as they allow couples to keep their spark alive despite not physically being together. They can keep couples excited to reunite in person, allow for sexual intimacy regardless of distance, and can increase individuals’ senses of being desired by their partner. However, it is common for individuals to feel uncomfortable or nervous by the thought of communicating with a partner sexually when not face to face, which is completely normal, especially when first discussing the idea or beginning to do so. People often express that they are not accustomed to speaking sexually or that they fear that in attempting to do so, they will say something wrong and turn their partner off. If you or your partner have these concerns, communicating about what is a turn on or turn off while speaking sexually may help you both feel more comfortable. Ultimately, although couples may not be together physically, sexting and phone sex can allow them to maintain intimacy thanks to modern technology.
3. Surprise your partner with small, personal, and loving gifts
The key here is not to impress your partner with your purchasing power. Rather, the goal is to remind them of your true feelings toward them by showing them the kind acts that these feelings inspire in you. Surprising your partner with gifts does not need to fall into the traditional realm of flowers, jewelry, or candy, and it does not need to be a particularly expensive endeavor. For instance, photographs, small keepsakes that share special meaning between the two of you, or handmade cards can all be inexpensive yet still very thoughtful gifts. By sending your partner small tokens of your love from time to time, you will make them feel loved, thought about, and likely pleasantly surprised.
A care package is another type of gift you can send your partner to show them that you care about and support them even though you cannot physically be with them. Thoughtful care packages, handmade or store-bought, can be an exciting gift to receive and can brighten a person’s day, especially if they are going through a particularly difficult or stressful period of time. You can really personalize your care package by considering what obstacles your partner may be facing. Are they sick? Do they have an exam coming up? Are they missing something from home? Is there something in particular they have been wanting? Creating a personalized gift package for them will show them just how well you know them and want to care for their needs.
5. Celebrate missed holidays
When you are able to reunite, celebrate any holidays or special dates that are important to you both that you have been apart for. For example, if you missed Halloween and one or both of you particularly likes the holiday, you can schedule a time to watch Halloween movies and carve pumpkins together, regardless of the time of year. Or if you have missed one partner’s birthday, you can plan to celebrate together when you reunite.
6. Plan special trips and getaways
Since you probably do not see your partner often or in long increments, planning a special trip to a new or favorite destination can be a memorable and exciting way to spend the time you do have together. Regardless of if your getaway involves going to a nice hotel in the city or camping in a nearby rural area, going somewhere new is likely to introduce novelty into your relationship, which can lead to emotional bonding and even increased satisfaction during sex. Planning time away together allows partners to create new memories as a couple and can give them something to look forward to during their often difficult time apart.
Advantages of Long-Distance Relationships
Although LDRs are often difficult to be in and manage, there are definite upsides to them. In fact, miles of separation from a loved one may allow partners to come to know each other in ways that close proximity could stifle. Some of the positive aspects of LDRs are:
- Increased appreciation for communication with a partner – Proximity can lead one or both members of a relationship to take talking to the other for granted, while members of LDRs are more likely to savor and happily anticipate hearing the sound of their partner’s voice, and to pay closer attention to their partner.
- Increased gratefulness for time spent physically together.
- The opportunity for personal growth – Dating with distance gives both partners time and space to grow as individuals. An LDR may be the perfect arrangement for someone who deeply values independence and autonomy, but also desires intimacy with another person.
- The possibility for consistently accurate assessments of the relationship – LDRs encourage a slower development of the relationship, which allows for frequent introspection and an honest assessment of one’s own feelings for a partner and about the arrangement as time goes on. Being in an LDR can help individuals see whether the relationship is purely based physical attraction or if they are able to and desire engaging in deep and meaningful conversations with their partner.
- More creative inspiration – In attempt to make up for the negative effects of physical distance, people in LDRs are more likely to meet at adventurous halfway points, indulge in romantic letter writing, learn new things about each other’s cities and friends, and plan exciting outings for when they can be together.
- The possibility of a deeper connection – Partners in LDRs are likely to learn more about each other than couples that live in the same area because the relationship is based solely on communication, which can lead to increased feelings of connectedness.
Thinking about the positive aspects of LDRs can help to make the distance feel a little more bearable.
Time Spent Together
When a long-distance couple has the time, money, or availability to see each other, there are many ways to make this time memorable and special. It is critical that couples are fully present and focus on each other during the limited time they have together, so we recommend avoiding bringing work home or watching TV by yourself whenever possible. Some people may even find it helpful to turn off their cell phones and limit the time spent on laptops or other gadgets that may distract them while they are physically with their partner. Giving massages, playing games, taking scented bubble baths, reading aloud to each other, cooking romantic meals, and cuddling are all intimate, inexpensive ways to bond while together. Try to enjoy every second of being in your partner’s presence when you get the chance to be, as it often feels as though this time moves particularly quickly.
There is no doubt that LDRs are not easy; they require dedicated time, commitment, and honest communication. Ultimately, what you put into an LDR is what you are going to get out of it. However, while not being able to see your partner for extended periods of time is guaranteed to be difficult, LDRs can be extremely successful and rewarding. After all, they have the potential to bring couples closer together and thanks to modern technology, staying in contact is easier than ever.
- Kafaee, Nazanin. Kohut, Taylor. “Online sexual experiences and relationship functioning in long distance relationships.”Gale Onefile. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality(Vol. 30, Issue 1). SIECCAN, The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, 2021.
- Guerrero, L. K., Andersen, P. A., & Afifi, W. A. (2021). Close encounters: Communication in relationships. SAGE.
Last updated: 11 October 2021